Socialist Students National Conference
Saturday 6 December,
10am – 6pm
David Sizer Lecture Theatre at the Mile End Campus of Queen Mary’s University, London
On 19 November, over 5,000 students joined a lively march calling for free education. The demonstration was a brilliant display of both huge anger and determination to fight back. Students had come from around the country, some without any support from their students union – instead organising with friends and college mates to make sure they could attend.
Socialist Students had a vibrant contingent of students with lots of chanting and some fiery speeches. Over 60 Socialist Students members joined this bloc on the march, with more throughout the demonstration.
Below is the text of the leaflet Socialist Students handed out on the protest, including our strategy for the student movement following on from it:
Four years ago, on 10 November 2010, London’s streets thronged with over 50,000 young people.
The mood was angry, but it was also electric. This was the start of a movement which gave thousands their first taste of struggle.
Two weeks later, up to 100,000 students walked out of schools and colleges. Austerity’s bitter medicine, in this case the tripling of tuition fees and snatching of education maintenance allowance, was angrily rejected.
Students marching today will rightly be asking what the next steps are for our movement today. How can we rebuild an effective movement to challenge the government and end austerity in education?
When we return to our campuses, the most immediate task will be organising solidarity with university staff participating in a marking boycott and potential strike action over attacks on pensions. Their fight is ours too.
But there is also the question of our leadership.
Outrageously, in the run up to the march, the right wing leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS) attempted to pull the plug. In an online statement, NUS president Toni Pearce announced she and other full time officers were overturning a decision by the union’s national executive council to support the protest. “Safety concerns” were the given reason.
This is a disgraceful dereliction of duty. In the run up to a general election, with further attacks on education threatened, failing to organise or even support a national demonstration is criminal.
Should the NUS have genuine concerns about safety, its attitude should be to provide resources and expertise to assist organisers in resolving them. Better still, if official student leaders had organised the demonstration in the first place, they could easily have prevented any such difficulties.
We must not be prepared to wait for ‘permission’ from right wingers like Toni Pearce to organise the desperately needed fightback.
Looking back, the magnificent 2010 student movement can seem distant. It too was betrayed by the leadership of the NUS, who abandoned the fight after the first demonstration.
Combined with this, the working class – with its huge economic power – had yet to enter the arena of struggle. Despite boiling anger and a strong sense of solidarity with students, workers were being held back by a ‘block at the top’ of the trade unions.
These factors meant round one in the battle against sky high fees and cuts ended in defeat.
But no defeats are final. Following on from the march, we need to return to our campuses and continue to organise against cuts. This means strikes, protests and occupations to keep the pressure up on university management and students’ union leaders to resist attacks.
It also means fighting for a political alternative. None of the main parties can be trusted with our education. Sitting tight and hoping for a Labour government – the party who introduced fees in the first place – is not a viable strategy. The rich 1% have four big parties all organised to represent their interests. We need our own party: One that fights in the interests of all the workers, young people, poor and oppressed. Organisations like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition have stood in elections as a no-cuts challenge to the big business parties. Over in the US, Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant recently received nearly 100,000 votes and was elected to Seattle’s city council – successfully campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage.
These developments give a glimpse of what’s possible. But our movement will need to be armed with ideas for an alternative to brutal austerity. Socialists reject the notion that ordinary people must shoulder the burden of paying for a crisis created by bankers, big business and the super-rich. We oppose every cut and fight for a society in which the big monopolies – banks, companies and businesses – are owned publicly and run under democratic control. Rather than production being organised to satisfy capitalist greed – the economy would be planned democratically to meet the needs of ordinary people – without destroying the planet.
The energy and vitality of the student movement, when linked with muscle of organised workers – the trade union movement – makes a formidable force. The scenes of resistance in 2010 were just the beginning.